First-Timers: NFR novices among barrel racers headed to the National Finals
Women from the Northern Plains will be well-represented on rodeo’s biggest stage when the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the National Finals Breakaway Roping take place in December.
Veteran barrel racing qualifiers like Lisa Lockhart, a fifteen-time National Finals qualifier, and Jessica Routier, the 2018 reserve world champion, have qualified.
And breakaway ropers Sawyer Gilbert, Buffalo, S.D., and Joey Williams, Volborg, Mont., will compete at the National Finals Breakaway Roping.
Two new faces make a first-time appearance at the Wrangler NFR.
Amanda Welsh, Gillette, Wyo., and Molly Otto, Grand Forks, N.D., have qualified in the barrel racing in seventh and fifteenth places, respectively.
For Welsh, she’s the second person among her siblings to compete at the Finals. Her older brother, Bobby, qualified in the bull riding seven times.
She visited the NFR to watch him in 2006, the first year he qualified. “After that,” she said, “I told myself I didn’t want to go until I had made it.” She attended again in 2011, and “that fueled my fire,” she said.
The Welsh family dairied in Wisconsin before moving to Wyoming when Bob and Peggy’s five kids, four sons and Amanda, were young.
“Dad gave up the dairy and sold the farm,” she said. He and Peggy “wanted more for their family than what they had.” They moved to Wyoming. Bob went to welding school, then worked as a welder, then in the coal mines, and then learned how to shoe horses. He’s been shoeing horses for over twenty years.
He and Peggy own B-P Quarter Horses and have been raising horses since Amanda was in high school.
Bob raised and trained the horse Amanda will ride.
Frenchmans Fire Fly, “Fire Fly,” an eleven-year-old gelding, is a special horse, she said. “He is, I feel, what every breeding program wants to produce. Not just because of what his accomplishments are, but he himself as a horse. To be around him, he always makes you smile.”
Amanda has rodeoed throughout high school and college, but this horse has carried her farther than any other.
Her win at the 2020 Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo and a second-place finish at San Antonio this year got her qualified to enter some of the bigger rodeos, which set her up for a good year.
Fire Fly tries hard, she said. “There hasn’t been a place I’ve taken him where he hasn’t worked. He’s constantly trying to do his best, and he’s a horse that kept getting stronger and stronger throughout the year. He finished the year just as strong as he started. That shows the toughness that my horse has.”
Fire Fly is not only her mount, but a very special horse. “Horses like Fire Fly don’t come along very often. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a bond with another horse like I do him. I always say he’s my best friend. I always know when he’s not feeling quite like himself and he seems to know when I need him.
“I try to spend as much time with him at the trailer as I can. There are days he’ll come up and put his head on my chest, and he knows I need him.”
Welsh’s back number for this year’s Wrangler NFR is #70, the same number that Bobby had ten years ago, on his sixth trip to the Finals, when he finished fourth in the world.
She has turned to him for guidance on the Finals. “Bobby’s given me a lot of advice on how that first round will feel,” she said. “You can try to imagine it but until you get there, you don’t know.”
Amanda’s children: daughter Raelyn (6) and son Ronnie, (4), will be in Las Vegas with her for the National Finals, as will her parents. Her brothers and their families will be in and out, visiting.
Throughout her year of rodeo, she appreciated the horsepower she had.
“I really just tried to take it one run and one rodeo at a time,” she said, “and really enjoy the horse that I have and the places we got to go. It’s rodeo. You have your down times, but the majority of the year was really good. I wouldn’t change anything this year.”
The fifteenth place barrel racer, when the rodeo year ended, snuck into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and for Molly Otto, it will also be her first time to be at the Finals.
The Grand Forks, N.D. woman filled her WPRA permit in 2011, and, like so many other contestants, dreamed of competing at the NFR, but an unlikely horse has made her dream come true.
Teasin Dat Guy, “Chewy,” is owned by Katie Lindahl, who brought the horse to Otto as a three-year-old.
The palomino didn’t show much promise. “She was small, she was lazy, and she wouldn’t even lope,” Otto remembered.
But Otto, a horse trainer, gave her a try.
After fifteen minutes, Otto had a new diagnosis.
“This horse is just bored. She needs something to do,” she said.
On the first day of training, Otto loped her through the barrel pattern, and on day two, the horse did a flying lead change. Otto thought to herself, “this horse wants to be a barrel horse.”
And Chewy’s rodeo career began.
Last year, as a four-year-old, Chewy won the 1D contest at the WPRA’s World Futurity and earned over $100,000.
This year, the horse has excelled on the rodeo trail, winning eleven rodeos and setting records at two of them. Her mental maturity is exceptional, Otto said. “I think she just really enjoys going down the road and going to new places. She just really loves her job and likes to work.”
Chewy’s coming off an abscess suffered in late September. She’s had time off, so Otto is working to get her back into shape, going to a few barrel races, making some runs on her.
“Other than that, I’m doing what I would normally do with her: regular exercising and letting her be a horse out in the pasture.”
Chewy is by Frenchmans Guy out of Teasin Jetolena.
Otto is married to Andy Otto and they have three children: sons Sterling, (15), Rowdy, (12), and daughter Blaisy, five.
The two younger kids will be in Las Vegas cheering on their mother for the entire time. Sterling will be there for the first weekend. “He doesn’t like school, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be mad that he can’t be there” the entire time, she said.
Chewy has her own unique personality, Otto said. “She’s really goofy. She acts like a teenager.” And when she’s made a barrel racing run, she wants snacks. “After her runs, she won’t even drink,” Otto laughed, “until we get back to the trailer and I give her 52 treats.”
The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the PRCA’s world championship, takes place Dec. 2-11 at the Thomas and Mack Arena in Las Vegas. The Finals determines the world champions and will pay out $10.257 million to its 119 contestants.
It will be broadcast live on The Cowboy Channel at 5:45 pm PST/8:45 pm EST.
For more information, visit ProRodeo.com.
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